| King of the Hills

Brooks Koepka, one of the big­gest hit­ters in the game, brought the long­est U.S. Open venue to it's knees. Start­ing Sun­day one stroke be­hind 54hole leader Brian Har­man, the for­mer Florida State All-Amer­i­can fired a 5-un­der-par 67 - his third sub-70 round o

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Louie Chan

Brooks Koepka, one of the big­gest hit­ters in the game, brought the long­est U.S. Open venue to it's knees.

A KOEPKA-HAR­MAN DUEL

Koepka re­vealed he re­ceived a mo­ti­va­tional phone call from the world No. 1, Dustin John­son, the night be­fore he be­came a first-time ma­jor win­ner.

“Dustin called me on Satur­day night and told me to take one shot at a time, just to stay pa­tient,” Koepka said. “It was a case of ‘just keep do­ing what you’re do­ing, you’re go­ing to win the thing. Just don’t get ahead of your­self’.

“Be­cause we played a Tues­day prac­tice round to­gether, he watched me play. I thought I played pretty solid on Tues­day. He said he was pulling for me and just hang in there. I felt like that has been the thing lately with me, why I haven’t re­ally played that well - I’ve been try­ing to win so badly. I felt like I un­der­achieved. And the more pa­tient that I can be­come the more times I’ll put my­self in this sit­u­a­tion,” added Koepka.

Koepka’s 72-hole to­tal of 16-un­der 272 was four strokes shy of the cham­pi­onship record reg­is­tered by Rory McIl­roy in 2011 at par-71 Con­gres­sional Coun­try Club, and it tied the North­ern Ir­ish­man’s mark in re­la­tion to par. He also be­came the sev­enth con­sec­u­tive first­time ma­jor cham­pion and the third Amer­i­can in a row to win the U.S. Open, the first time that’s hap­pened since 2000 when Tiger Woods fol­lowed Payne Ste­wart and Lee Janzen.

Through nine holes, it ap­peared the cham­pi­onship would come down to a Koep­kaHar­man duel, and when the for­mer reg­is­tered his first three-putt of the cham­pi­onship on No. 10 for a bo­gey 5, the two dead-locked at 13 un­der. Things could have un­rav­eled for Koepka two holes later, but he con­verted a 9-foot par putt. That set the stage for his birdie bar­rage, in­clud­ing a 17-footer on the par-3 16th to reach 16 un­der.

When Har­man made a bo­gey 5 on the par-4 12th and a rare three-putt on 13th, any drama was all but re­moved. “I don’t be­lieve in moral vic­to­ries,” said Har­man, the 2003 U.S. Ju­nior Ama­teur cham­pion who was vy­ing to be­come the first left-handed golfer to hoist the U.S. Open Tro­phy. “I had an op­por­tu­nity to­day, and I didn’t get it done. But at the same time, I don’t feel as though I lost a golf tour­na­ment. I think Brooks went out and won the tour­na­ment.”

Mat­suyama made a late run with five birdies over his fi­nal eight holes to get into the club­house at 12 un­der, but Koepka never wa­vered, pro­duc­ing a pair of pars on 17 and 18 to seal the win.

THE MOST FEAR­LESS PLAYER EMERGED

It was all part of a record-set­ting week at Erin Hills, the first course to host a U.S. Open in Wis­con­sin. Even though the wind blew the hard­est it had all

cham­pi­onship - 15 to 25 mph - 18 un­der-par scores were posted on Sun­day, bring­ing the to­tal to 140, which sur­passed the 124 reg­is­tered in 1990 at Me­d­i­nah Coun­try Club.

Koepka’s four-stroke vic­tory is the largest in the last nine ma­jors, dat­ing to 2015 U.S. Open cham­pion Jor­dan Spi­eth’s four-stroke win in the 2015 Masters.

Even more as­ton­ish­ing was the seven golfers who fin­ished dou­ble dig­its un­der par, with Tommy Fleet­wood (11-un­der 277) fin­ish­ing fourth, and Bill Haas, 18-hole leader Rickie Fowler and U.S. Open rookie Xan­der Schauf­fele ty­ing for fifth at 10-un­der 278. Those re­la­tionto-par num­bers would have won all but two U.S. Opens: Woods’ 15-stroke romp in 2000 at Peb­ble Beach Golf Links and McIl­roy’s eight­stroke vic­tory in 2011.

A week that be­gan with no Tiger Woods or Phil Mick­el­son, mark­ing the first time since 1994 at least one of the game’s lead­ing men wasn’t in the field at a ma­jor. It’s also a week­end with­out world No. 1, 2 and 3 - Dustin John­son, Rory McIlory and Ja­son Day, re­spec­tively - for the first time in a ma­jor.

For a Ma­jor cham­pi­onship that seemed to lack an iden­tity, ini­tially as a re­sult of the per­ceived miss­ing star power, Rickie Fowler ini­tially filled the star void. He took the first-round lead with

a 65 and started the fi­nal round just two strokes back, but he never man­aged to close the gap and fin­ished with an even-par 72 to tie for fifth.

The Erin Hills Open was saved by Sun­day’s breeze. Af­ter three days of record scor­ing that in­cluded Justin Thomas’ 9-un­der 63 - the low­est score in re­la­tion to par ever at the U.S. Open - balance and a bite were re­turned to the golf uni­verse on Day 4.

Sun­day’s winds fi­nally put the fear back in the golf, where it should be at the U.S. Open, and as is al­ways the case the most fear­less player emerged.

Koepka com­pleted his tran­si­tion from a calm and con­fi­dent player with plenty of po­ten­tial to a bona fide star who didn’t blink when the game’s most de­mand­ing test fi­nally ar­rived on Day 4. Beyond that calm ex­te­rior and lim­it­less power, Koepka didn’t come to the PGA Tour with un­told fan­fare or en­joy im­me­di­ate and un­qual­i­fied suc­cess.

In­stead, he forged a much dif­fer­ent path, start­ing out on the Euro­pean Chal­lenge Tour, the Con­ti­nent’s ver­sion of the se­cond-tier cir­cuit, be­fore mov­ing onto the Euro­pean Tour. He played tour­na­ments in far-flung places like Kaza­khstan and had to have ex­tra pages put into his pass­port at one point be­cause of his ex­ten­sive trav­els. And most im­por­tantly he learned his trade.

“I kept telling peo­ple last year af­ter the Ry­der Cup when Brooks fig­ures out how good he is, he’s go­ing to be a world-beater,” said Brandt Snedeker, who tied for ninth (8-un­der 280).

Per­haps all he needed was the right venue with gen­er­ous fair­ways, just like Erin Hills that fit Koepka’s game.

Brooks Koepka hits his se­cond shot on the 7th dur­ing the fi­nal round

Brian Har­man re­acts to a missed birdie putt on the 16th dur­ing the third round

Tommy Fleet­wood hits his se­cond shot on the 8th dur­ing the fi­nal round. He fin­ished

fourth at 11 un­der

Hideki Mat­suyama made a late run with five birdies over his fi­nal eight holes to fin­ish at 12-un­der tied-se­cond

Rickie Fowler took the first-round lead with a 65. But he could only fin­ish with an even-par 72 to tie for fifth

Justin Thomas hits his tee shot on the 18th hole dur­ing the third round.

His 9-un­der 63 set the U.S. Open low­est score in re­la­tion to par record

Brooks Koepka poses with the tro­phy af­ter win­ning

the 2017 U.S. Open

A view of the flag on the 18th fea­tur­ing Arnold

Palmer at Erin Hills

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